Pancho Vladigerov (Wladigeroff, Vladiguerov, Vladigueroff) is arguably the most influential Bulgarian composer of all time. He was one of the first to successfully combine the idioms of Bulgarian folk music with the Western European art music tradition.
Born in Zurich, he grew up in the relatively small city of Shumen in northeastern Bulgaria. His parents both held doctoral degrees from West European universities. Vladigerov’s father Haralan was Bulgarian while his mother Eliza was a Russian Jew, and a close relative of the famous writer Boris Pasternak. Pancho had an identical twin named Lyuben. The brothers played piano and violin respectively since early age and were considered child prodigies in a country where the West European art music tradition was still in its infancy.
In 1908 Haralan Vladigerov died, and two years later the rest of the family moved to Sofia where Pancho started lessons in composition with Dobri Hristov, the most distinguished Bulgarian composer of that time. In 1912, after numerous formalities, the family managed to obtain state scholarship for the children to study in the famous Berlin Staatliche Akademische Hochschule für Musik. Vladigerov studied theory and composition with P. Juon, and piano with H. Barth. Later on he continued his studies at the Academie der Künste under Friedrich Gernsheim and Georg Schumann. He twice won the Mendelssohn Prize of the Academy for his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1, as well as his Three Impressions for Orchestra Op. 9.
In1920 Vladigerov started working as music director of Deutsches Theater in Berlin under the famous theater director Max Reinhardt. He gradually gained considerable fame as a composer especially in the German-speaking countries where a significant number of his works were published, performed, and recorded. However, in 1932, after much hesitation Vladigerov decided to return to Bulgaria; the reason being a combination of nostalgia and fear from the gradually increasing Nazi influence in German society.
In Sofia, Vladigerov was appointed professor of piano, chamber music and composition at the National Academy of Music, an institution which is now named after him. He was also among the founding members of the Society for Contemporary Music, an organization in a quest for creating a national Bulgarian compositional style based on the music language of the traditional peasant folk song. Vladigerov was a very influential pedagogue and, up to his retirement, taught practically all notable Bulgarian composers of the next generation.
Vladigerov constantly composed and the body of his works is really impressive. He wrote an opera, a ballet, music for fourteen different theatre plays, five piano concertos, two violin concertos, more than thirty works for orchestra, several chamber music works, dozens of songs, and numerous opuses of solo piano. Most of his piano works are relatively short and are given evocative titles. They are usually organized into cycles of three to six.
Vladigerov’s music has been admired by such diverse personalities as Richard Strauss, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Aram Khachaturian. It has been occasionally performed by famous artists such as Alexis Weissenberg, David Oistrach, Emil Gilels and, most recently, Marc-Andre Hamelin; however, he still remains largely unknown name except in his home country.
Vladigerov’s most performed and emblematic work is unquestionably “Vardar Rhapsody”. It was originally written for violin and piano, and was later orchestrated and arranged for various instruments. A fiery patriotic work, it has become, in the words of an admiring critic “the Bulgarian equivalent of Chopin’s polonaise in A Major.”
-Dimiter Terziev (more on the author)